Browns are pointed in right direction

Basketball was supposed to be the sport that brought happiness to Cleveland. Yet, for now, football has filled that role.

No team in the league is getting more production out of less talent than this year's Browns, who take a 3-2 record to Jacksonville for Sunday's game versus the Jaguars.

Cleveland's starting quarterback, Brian Hoyer, is an undrafted free agent. Its backup running back, Isaiah Crowell, is an undrafted free agent. Its three top wide receivers -- Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin and Taylor Gabriel -- are, you guessed it, undrafted free agents.

All together, the Browns have gotten 1,106 snaps from undrafted college free agents at the offensive skill positions, more than any other team in the NFL.

Yet despite Cleveland and New England being the only teams in the league not to have a single first-round pick starting at quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end, the Browns lead the NFL in offensive efficiency, which is the metric that measures how well a team moves the ball, scores and limits negative plays on a play-to-play basis.

It doesn't stop there.

Cleveland is tied for an NFL-low two turnovers this season, the franchise's lowest five-game total since 1960. It has allowed only six sacks. And the Browns have gained 38 percent of their rushing and receiving yards this season from rookies, with only Jacksonville having a higher such percentage.

One of the main reasons players have performed at levels no one expected is because of the coaching. While Cleveland became a choice destination for some of the world's most-wanted basketball players, it also became a landing spot for some of the NFL's least-wanted assistant coaches.

Kyle Shanahan spent days wondering where he would find work after Washington let him go. Baltimore considered hiring him before giving its offensive coordinator job to Shanahan's former boss in Houston, Gary Kubiak. Cleveland and Shanahan were stuck with each other.

Dowell Loggains struggled to land another offensive coordinator job after Tennessee fired him, being bypassed by the Giants before he accepted the quarterbacks coach position in Cleveland.

And together, two former fired offensive coordinators have keyed Cleveland's resurgence. Shanahan has dialed up run plays on 51 percent of Cleveland's plays -- a 20 percent increase from last season and the highest rate in the NFL. The Browns lead the NFL with eight rushing touchdowns, four more than the league-low four they had all of last season.

As one football executive said this week, it's not the players getting open so much as the coaching scheme that's allowing them to do it. Cleveland's offense has overcome a defense that once was considered the strength of the team but has allowed the seventh-most yards per play in the NFL.

Now Cleveland's short- and long-term futures are bright. At 3-2, the Browns' next three games are at Jacksonville, then home for the Raiders and Buccaneers -- three teams with a combined 1-16 record -- before a divisional game in Cincinnati. There's no reason the Browns shouldn't be 6-2 heading into that huge matchup.

Then, after this season, the Browns will have two first- and two fourth-rounders again in the draft. They are scheduled to have their own first- and fourth-round picks along with Buffalo's first- and fourth-round picks, which Cleveland acquired last May in the draft-day trade that enabled the Bills to select former Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

There's always the chance the bottom falls out, an injury occurs or something bad happens. This is Cleveland, after all. Last season, Cleveland also started 3-2 before winning only one of its final 11 games. And last Sunday, the Browns lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack to a likely season-ending fractured fibula. The season's second-half schedule -- home for Texans, at Falcons, at Bills, home for Colts, home for Bengals, at Panthers, at Ravens -- is more challenging. Danger probably lurks.

But there's also this: After 10 games, Browns all-world wide receiver Josh Gordon will be eligible for reinstatement. Mix his talent into what Cleveland has done, and the Browns could be even more formidable as they make their -- gasp -- playoff push.

So while Cleveland gears up for the start of its Cavaliers' season, the Browns' surprising start has given this city a little hope and a reason to believe.

Unsettled feeling in the Motor City: Two of the most stable jobs in all of sports have been Steelers head coach and Lions kicker.

Since 1969, Pittsburgh has had three head coaches, none of whom have been fired.

And since 1980, the Lions had only two kickers with a full-time hold on the job, Eddie Murray from 1980 through 1991 and Jason Hanson from 1992-2012, until David Akers did the job last season.

In the 22 seasons from 1992-2013, the Lions had only three players attempt a field goal: Hanson, Dave Rayner, who went 13-of-16 in 2010 due to a Hanson injury, and Akers last year.

Yet this season alone, the Lions have had three players (Nate Freese, Alex Henery and Matt Prater) attempt and make field goals. The three kickers have combined to connect on only 5 of 15 attempts, which is why the Lions signed Prater last week to a one-year contract before he went 1-for-3 in his Detroit debut.

It's impressive that Detroit has gotten so little production out of its kickers yet still has found a way to improve its record to 4-2. If Prater can get untracked, the Lions could challenge for the NFC North title.

If not, Detroit could be looking for its fourth kicker after this season, twice the number it had in over 30 years from 1980-2012.

Cards persevere through injuries: Who would have thought that six weeks into the NFL season, the Arizona Cardinals would suffer as many key injuries as any team in the league -- and still be in first place in the NFC West?

One of the main reasons this team has performed at such a high level is the low number of mistakes its quarterbacks have made.

Heading into Sunday's game at Oakland, where Carson Palmer played from 2011-12, Arizona is the only team in the league that hasn't thrown an interception. Not one, despite the fact that Palmer missed three games due to a nerve injury in his shoulder and Drew Stanton started in his place.

Just like how in Cleveland the coaches deserve plenty of credit, the same is true of Arizona head coach Bruce Arians, a former Steelers and Colts assistant. Arians got plenty of production out of his quarterbacks in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. He has done the same in Arizona -- in an even more impressive fashion.

As long as Palmer & Co. continue to avoid mistakes, Arizona will continue to compete for the NFC West title.


Player of the Week: Chargers QB Philip Rivers: Rivers has posted a 7-1 career record at home against the Chiefs and hasn't lost at home to Kansas City since Week 4 of 2007. In his six straight home wins against the Chiefs, Rivers has posted at least an 80 total QBR four times, including two times of more than 90.

Game of the Week: 49ers at Broncos: Nobody would be surprised if this turned out to be a Super Bowl preview.

Upset of the week: Giants over Cowboys: One week after the Cowboys played their most impressive game of the season, the Giants and Eli Manning are fully capable of stealing a win in Dallas, as they've done plenty in the past.